Cubs add to rotation with Williams

February 5th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The Cubs knew that their search for rotation help this winter was going to include casting a net for comeback candidates. Right-hander fits that mold and will have a chance to prove himself for a team with starter innings up for grabs.

On Friday, the Cubs announced they had reached an agreement with Williams on a one-year contract. Per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the pact is worth $2.5 million, plus performance bonuses based on innings pitched. Chicago also announced the signings of outfielder Joc Pederson and lefty reliever Andrew Chafin.

The pact positions Williams favorably for joining a rotation that is led by , and . It is a cast without an overpowering arm, but Chicago has confidence that its pitching infrastructure and run prevention planning can maximize the production of such arms.

The road to a second straight division title should be a challenge for the Cubs, who traded ace Yu Darvish to the Padres in December as part of a blockbuster package that reeled in Davies and four prospects. But Chicago is attempting a balancing act of remaining competitive in 2021 and planning for the future.

That approach by new Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has led to moves that have shaved payroll and others that have addressed needs in a cost-effective manner. Williams fits the latter approach, as does the agreement between the Cubs and outfielder .

Williams, 28, won 14 games and spun a 3.11 ERA in 31 starts in 2018 for the Pirates, who saw the righty log a tidy 1.29 ERA in his final 13 games that season. From 2019-20, however, Williams turned in a 5.60 ERA in 201 innings, dealing with a right oblique issue in '19 and continued inconsistency in '20 (6.18 ERA in 11 starts).

Williams' dad, who grew up in Chicago and once skipped school for a week to watch Ernie Banks hit his 500th home run, tweeted that his son going to the Cubs "is a dream" alongside a photo of Williams pitching at Wrigley Field in 2018.

Williams was designated for assignment by Pittsburgh on Nov. 20, when the team needed to clear room on the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 Draft. That concluded a five-year run with the Pirates for Williams, who has gone 31-37 with a 4.43 ERA in 106 outings in the big leagues. Williams relies mainly on a four-seam fastball (91.5 mph on average in 2020, per Statcast), slider and changeup, but he also has a sinker and curve in his arsenal.

In need of rotation depth, the Cubs might also continue to target some mid-tier free-agent arms.

The need for rotation help comes after the Cubs lost Tyler Chatwood (Blue Jays) and José Quintana (Angels) to free agency this offseason. Chicago also declined Jon Lester's option for 2021, and the veteran lefty signed as a free-agent with the Nationals, reuniting with former Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber (non-tendered in December).

Internally, the Cubs also have right-hander poised to compete for one of the rotation openings this spring. Chicago also added righty on a one-year deal to serve as a long man and potential rotation depth piece. was signed to a Minor League, non-roster deal this offseason for potential starter depth, as well.

The Cubs also have , ranked by MLB Pipeline as their No. 1 prospect, knocking on the Majors' door, and , and among the arms also offering internal rotation depth. Rule 5 pick and reliever are expected to be stretched out this spring to handle multiple innings, too.

The rotation does not project to be an overpowering unit, but the Cubs believe it nonetheless can be effective.

Hendricks has a wealth of postseason experience, has won an ERA title and is a well-respected leader coming off a strong 2020 showing (2.88 ERA in 12 starts). Davies boasts one of the better changeups in the game and had a 2.73 ERA in a dozen turns in '20. Last season, Mills famously threw a no-hitter against the Brewers on Sept. 13, and Alzolay impressed as a rotation fill-in (2.95 ERA in six games).

Williams will aim to fit right into the rotation, if he can pitch closer to his 2017-18 form.